Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant scored 32 points to help the Lakers beat the Nuggets on Sunday.
L.A. Lakers 128, Denver 114
LOS ANGELES, April 20 (AP) -- Pau Gasol's post-game smile made it clear how he felt about finally winning a postseason game.
His numbers revealed just how much he had to do with the victory.
Gasol established career playoff highs with 36 points and eight assists, and he also had 16 rebounds and three blocked shots Sunday as the Los Angeles Lakers took command in the third quarter and beat the Denver Nuggets 128-114.
"It feels amazing, it feels great. I had a blast out there,'' the 7-foot Spaniard said after shooting 14-of-20 from the floor and 8-of-8 from the foul line. "We did a pretty good job, we can do better. We're happy with the win, I'm happy with the win. Hopefully there will be many more.
"Every guy on our team is doing an amazing job out there, and I'm just one of them.''
Gasol, a 27-year-old forward/center acquired from Memphis on Feb. 1 after spending 6 1/2 seasons with the Grizzlies, was 0-12 in three previous postseasons.
"I knew he could perform at a high level,'' Lakers star Kobe Bryant said. "This just ain't Memphis. I think this offense has freed him up a little bit and showcased more what he can do instead of just being in the post all the time.''
"It's tough to match up against us for a variety of reasons. We have guys that can finish, we have a a great 1-2 punch, and all of our guys can pass the ball.''
Bryant, who said he made himself a decoy through most of the game, scored 18 of his 32 points in the final 8 minutes to keep Los Angeles safely ahead. Lamar Odom had 17 points, 14 rebounds and six assists and Luke Walton added 16 points for the Lakers, who entered having won eight of their last nine regular-season games to earn the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference .
But it was Gasol who did the most damage.
"They do an excellent job of finding him around the basket,'' Denver's Kenyon Martin said.
"Pau is so versatile, he just opens the game up,'' Odom said. "He was past good, he was amazing.''
Denver coach George Karl said he didn't believe it was just Gasol.
"I think the film will show it was the Los Angeles Lakers who tore us up,'' Karl said. "Gasol played great, don't get me wrong. He had a lot of great decisions for him to get a lot of easy baskets.''
Karl said he was glad Game 2 isn't until Wednesday night at Staples Center, giving the Nuggets a chance to adjust. The third and fourth games in the best-of-seven series will be played in Denver.
"I don't think anyone in our locker room is deflated,'' Karl said. "We know that we can play better than we did, and defense is probably the first thing we'll address.''
Carmelo Anthony had 30 points and 12 rebounds for the eighth-seeded Nuggets. Allen Iverson also had 30 points before picking up two technical fouls with 2:10 remaining, calling for immediate ejection. Linas Kleiza scored a career playoff high 23 points and J.R. Smith added 15 before fouling out with 3:14 left.
The Nuggets should have it known wasn't going to be their day when several players were stranded on the Santa Monica Freeway for about a half-hour when the team bus broke down on the way to the game.
The bus left the team's hotel about 2 1/2 hours before tipoff as scheduled, but experienced problems about 15 minutes into the trip, spokesman Eric Sebastian said.
"There was a pop, black smoke, there was another pop, more black smoke,'' Sebastian said. "We rushed off the bus. We were standing on the side of the road.''
The Nuggets' second bus, which left the team hotel about 30 minutes after the first one, stopped to pick up their teammates. The entire team made the rest of the trip to the arena, arriving about 90 minutes before game-time.
The Lakers led 97-78 entering the fourth quarter, but an 11-2 run by Denver made it 101-91 with 8:17 remaining. The Nuggets drew within nine twice down the stretch, but Bryant wouldn't allow them to get any closer.
"They struck first,'' said Denver's Marcus Camby, who had only four points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. "I was surprised how well they passed the ball. They are a very unselfish team. It was also a surprise how well they cut to the basket. Once they got the lead, it was hard to catch up with them.''
The Lakers outscored the Nuggets 39-22 in the third quarter after leading 58-56 at halftime .
"We just broke down (in the third quarter),'' Iverson said. "We're underdogs, and people don't think we have a chance at all. But we're not going to give up.''
The Nuggets shot just 23-for-37 from the foul line. Iverson was the main culprit, going 7-for-13.
"I could never put two together,'' he said. "That's unacceptable.''
Regarding his ejection, Iverson said: "(Ken Mauer) made the right decision about throwing me out. I was frustrated, but I deserved to get thrown out.' '
Denver had a 50-32 regular-season record, its best in 20 years. The Nuggets haven't won a playoff series since 1994, when as the eighth-seed, they upset the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics, coached by Karl.
Notes: -- Smith picked up a flagrant foul in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, throwing Walton to the floor. ... The Lakers were 3-0 against the Nuggets during the regular season, winning by an average of 16.3 points per game. It was more of the same Sunday. ... The Lakers haven't won a playoff series since 2004, when Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal led them to the NBA finals, where they lost to Detroit in five games. O'Neal was traded to Miami shortly thereafter. ... The Nuggets have been eliminated 4-1 in the first round of the postseason in each of the last four years after failing to make the playoffs for eight straight years. ... The teams are meeting in the playoffs for the first time since Los Angeles swept Denver 3-0 in the first round 21 years ago. The Lakers also eliminated the Nuggets 2-1 in a Western Conference mini-series in 1979 and 4-1 in the conference finals in 1985.